I Take It Back…


Remember how my kids pissed me off yesterday?  Well, they kinda made up for it today.

I started reading The Book Thief with my first period class last night.  These are my freshmen and sophomores, and I’ve got a pretty wide range of abilities in the class, so I was excited to choose this novel to work first.

I knew my lower-level kids could handle it.  Zusak’s writing is easy, easy; while there are one or two “vocabulary words” in the text, the novel is entirely engaging and accessible.  The characters are beautifully described and the story lines are pretty easy to follow.

For my higher-level students, though, there is much to be mined beneath the surface of Zusak’s deceptively simple text.  The narrator of the story plays with time and the senses.  There’s a very strong undercurrent to the story that is almost impossible to ignore, but is only ever hinted at in the actual story.

We were talking this morning about the tone of the story thus far (they’d only read to page 55).  “What’s the deal,” I asked, “with this narrator?  What’s he about?”  The kids determined that he’s very observant, exceedingly careful about how he’s perceived by others, and is more than a little sarcastic.

“YES!” I said, “He IS!”  Then I asked the question they all KNEW was coming, but were dreading, I think, nonetheless.


There was a bit of silence in the room, but that doesn’t scare me; I don’t fall for the “if we sit in awkward silence long enough, she’ll tell us the answer she’s looking for” trick.  I can sit in awkward silence for FAR longer than they can.

Then, one of the kids nailed it.

“Hey, wait!” he said (I LOVE it when kids start sentences like that – you can practically SEE the lightbulb going on over their little heads).  “The guys in The Things They Carried were the same way, joking after Lavendar died.  I think the narrator is sarcastic and snarky because he’s just as uncomfortable with death as humans are, even though it’s, you know, his job.”

THIS is what I’m talking about.  It’s those connections the kids make that send me right over the giddy edge and keep me getting out of bed in the morning.

On another, related note, I had mentioned that a kid made a glorious connection a week or so ago, and Falcon asked me in a comment what it was, but I never followed up (sorry, Falcon!).  Here’s what happened:

We had just finished watching The Last Samurai (in both of my classes, but this story involves my III/IV class) and were discussing the “big idea” themes of the story; honor, self-discovery, patriotism and service, that kind of thing.

One of my students – a sweet, bubbly, kind-hearted girl – is just about as enthusiastic about The Sons of Anarchy as I am.  In fact, I practically have to come to class on Wednesday mornings with my fingers in my ears singing “la, la, la” so that she won’t spill Tuesday night’s episode to me, and it makes her jitter to have to wait for me to watch it on TiVo so we can talk about it.

So we’re talking about “honor” and what it means, when this delightful child’s face lights up.  “OH!  Mrs. CHILI!” she says.  “What about JAX?”

“What ABOUT Jax, Kiki?”  (I’m already grinning.)

“WELL,” she starts, “remember the episode where they’re going to avenge Donna’s death by killing a Mayan, even though Jax KNOWS that the Mayans didn’t kill Donna (at this point most of the class is completely lost, but are entirely entertained watching me geek out at where I KNOW Kiki is going with this)?  So Jax goes to Clay and says he’s got no problem with the hit… as long as the guy has it coming anyway.”

While the connection is a bit tenuous – most rational people would have a very big problem with the hit, and for a number of different reasons – Kiki WAS circling around the idea of honor and how, depending on one’s circumstances and upbringing and culture (like the Samurai notion of suicide as an acceptable, often desirable answer to shame or failure), honor can mean very different things, and she was using examples available to HER to make those connections.

THAT’S what I’m in this for.  I want my kids to see those connections.  I want them to think critically about their world.  I want them to be observant and careful and thoughtful, and my boy this morning – and Kiki last week – offered me beautiful proof that I’m doing something right.

I love, Love, LOVE my job!



Filed under critical thinking, film as literature, fun, great writing, Holocaust, I love my job, out in the real world, popular culture, success!, Teaching, the good ones

4 responses to “I Take It Back…

  1. So Jax goes to Clay and says he’s got no problem with the hit… “as long as the guy has it coming anyway.”

    I know this has little to do with the real reason you’re posting this, but the reference that pops into my head now is Arnie’s “True Lies” when he and JL Curtis are tied up and waiting to be interrogated and she asks him if he’s ever killed anyone and he says, “Yeah… but they were all bad.”


  2. No, actually, Falcon, that’s kinda where we went with this.

    It’s not so much justification (though I think that rational people would argue that it IS that) as it is an individual’s sense of justice and honor. Honor among thieves, perhaps, but a code nonetheless.

    Kiki was zeroing in on the idea that while Jax was still condoning a murder (let’s not forget that – it was murder), in his mind, it was okay because even if the guy didn’t do what he was being killed for, he was still a bad guy who deserved, in their twisted world, to die. If the Mayan in question had been a probie, say, or a wannabe who hadn’t actually DONE anything yet, Jax would never have consented to the hit. As it was, he condoned it because he knew a) the target in question was a low-life and b) it would bring his friend (the husband of the murdered Donna) some peace.

    Wrong? Oh, yes – on SO many levels – but I fully appreciated the connection that Kiki was making. It’s a connection I think she’ll have an opportunity to play with again as we begin to think about forgiveness and its limits (and possibilities).

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